To hasten Internet traffic, drivers face slowdowns in Miami
By Paola Iuspa
The road to Miami's high-tech connectivity is paved with closed streets and more than a few bumps along the way.
With about 25 telecommunication companies laying underground fiber-optic cable in downtown Miami, detours and uneven steel plates fastened across pavement are becoming part of the everyday route for drivers.
"A lot of construction is concentrated in the streets around the NAP," said John Jackson, the city's director of public works, referring to the Network Access Point of the Americas at 50 NE Ninth St., which started operating late last month. The network is a switching station for Internet traffic to and from Latin America.
Many excavations, he said, are taking place along Northeast First and Second avenues and Northeast and Northwest Eighth and Ninth streets. He said construction takes place at night in the downtown area and the work has been escalating since last fall.
"East Flagler Street, South First Street and North First Street have been dug up a number of times," he said. "Companies come one after the other to install their fiber-optic network."
He said the city recently hired three inspectors, making a total of five, to supervise utility construction.
"And that is not enough," he said. "We need to supervise what the subcontractors do all the time. Once in a while they strike power, gas or water lines."
Main players laying underground fiber-optic lines for telephone and Internet traffic include ACSI Network Technologies Inc., Adelphia, AT&T, Williams Communications, Global Crossing, AGT, TCG, FPL FiberNet, MCI WorldCOM and EPIK Communications Inc., said Amilcar Choquehuanca, in charge of issuing permits with the city's public works department. For a permit, he said, companies pay $250 for the first linear foot and 30 cents for each additional foot.
"A company can get a permit to lay down from 250 to 3,000 linear feet," he said. "It depends on what it needs."
The city also profits from the new technology by charging an annual franchise fee to telecommunication companies using the right-of-way.
Hector Badia, handling the city's franchise fees, said while most companies must pay the city 1% of what they generate from providing services in Miami, those that only provide telephone services instead pay 75 cents per fiber-optic cable linear foot.
"The city is doing a good job working with us," said Gustavo Cabrera, vice president of South Florida Operations for MasTec, which installs fiber-optic networks for MSN, AT&T and Global Crossing. "Compared to other cities, their fees are in line with what it should be."
Many telecommunication companies try to work out agreements among themselves to avoid duplicate construction costs and save time.
"We have an strategic plan for specific buildings we want to go into," said Richard Cratem, director of network development of EPIK. "Many times we swap [conduits] with other carriers and utility companies so we don't have to tear up streets."
EPIK, with a fiber-optic network extending from Miami to Atlanta, is also connected to the NAP."
Many companies team up to build, he said. "That's what happened when the NAP was going up. We built our networks at the same time, sharing routes."
Even with some shared construction, the work can be a nightmare for commuters. But Mr. Jackson said the city is not allowed to restrict the use of right-of-way for the installation of fiber-optic wires.
"The state passed a provision in 2000 prohibiting municipalities from denying telecommunication companies the right-of-way," he said. "It is a pity we don't have a long-range plan dedicating part of the right-of-ways to fiber-optic connections. It would have restricted some roadways from being torn up."
He said many telecommunications companies ask to see plans of existing conduits carrying other companies' fiber optic netting to use those - instead of digging up other roads.
City officials and high-tech industry leaders are in the process of drafting a map to show the current underground fiber-optic routes, said Diane Sanchez, a consultant with Terremark Worldwide Inc., which owns and operates the NAP.
"It would allow other groups to use the existing networks," she said, but added it was too early in the process to give more details about the map.
Mr. Cabrera said he was aware of the city's effort to create a master plan to help companies share infrastructure.
"For example, AT&T may place eight conduits underground," he said, "and they hold the license for each of them, but they may choose to rent some of the conduits to its clients or other companies."
Mr. Cabrera predicted construction in Miami could start winding down in a year, though Mr. Jackson said it would take twice that long.
"The NAP is the fifth of its kind in the US," Mr. Cabrera said. "The more infrastructure we build in Miami, the more telecommunication companies we will attract. I think the demand for fiber-optic cable will continue for another year."